Introduction to European Union law
Introduction to European Union law

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Introduction to European Union law

2 Defining the EU

The video in the next activity provides an introduction to the formation and development of the EU, it presents the view of one of the member states: Austria.

Activity 3 What is the EU?

Timing: You should allow yourself 10 minutes to do this activity.

Watch the video and answer the questions below. Bear in mind that as Croatia has joined the EU since filming, the video states 27 member states but there are now 28.

Download this video clip.Video player: The European Union explained
Skip transcript: The European Union explained

Transcript: The European Union explained

The EU Parliament

NARRATOR
OK, let's start with the term. What does 'Europe' mean? On April 18, 1951, the Schuman Declaration led to the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community, ECSC, by Belgium, the Federal Republic of …
… Stop. Let's not focus on data. The end of World War II was one crucial starting point. The network and cooperation of those branches of industry, which were relevant for the military, was to prevent new wars and to lead to enduring peace, an ageless desire we just too easily tend to forget. Of course, everybody was also fighting against the next upcoming madness, the Cold War, another big issue.
Today's European Union includes 27 countries. That's nearly 500 million EU citizens, which means that we make up 7% of the world population, acquiring more than 30% of nominal gross world product. Out of 500 million EU citizens, 375 million are eligible to vote.
There's not much difference between the parties of the 27 member states. The most important are the Conservatives on the right and the Socialists on the left, both intending to stand close to the middle. Then there's the Greens, the Nationalists, and the Liberals. These national parties have formed the political parties represented in the European Parliament.
These European parties again can ally to fractions in the EU Parliament, but also individual national parties which don't want to unite with a European party can join these fractions. Some parties even split up their representatives into two different fractions.
The EU Parliament plays a crucial role within the European Union. Other, actually, sometimes, even more important roles are performed by the European Council, the European Commission, and the Council of the European Union, colloquially referred to as Council of Ministers. The European Council comprises the heads of government of the Union's member states, along with the President of the European Commission. This is where the power of the national Decision makers is cumulated. The presidency of the European Council rotates every six months between the member states. The same goes for the president of the Council of Ministers.
There's a reason why the biannual meeting of the Commission is called 'EU Summit'. At these meetings, the national leaders try to agree on a concerted line of action. At best, they will proclaim guidelines and objectives for European politics, but won't be involved in everyday legislative procedures. Unfortunately, it is more likely that national interests are in the fore, and that their countries judge their heads of government by the benefits they were able to reap for their countries. This results in very fierce negotiations, which often lead to personal disputes, and onward to traditional horse trading, which helps everyone to save his face.
Every Decision in the European Council has to be made anonymously. The President of the European Commission, who is part of the European Council, is conveniently appointed to this post by the Council, now called Council of Ministers though, so that their Decision does not have to be anonymous and that no dissent can lead to further horse trading. This is where the EU Parliament comes into play for the first time. It has to agree upon the Decision made by the heads of government.
As soon as the members of the European Council have settled on a political direction, the President of the Commission reports it to the European Commission, which should pursue this political direction and act in accordance to it. The European Commission consists of 27 commissioners. Currently, each country puts up its own commissioner. Each member country proposes commissioners for different departments, which will be assorted by the President of the Commission, the factual head of the EU government. These commissioners again have to be approved by the Parliament. The European Commission is the sole organ of the EU that may propose new laws which will be heard, altered, refused, or accepted by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. As long as no Decision is made, the draft proposal can be withdrawn by the Commission.
The Council of Ministers consists of the heads of the respective departments in the particular national governments. There are different councils which deal with individual departments. As an example, the Ministers of Justice get together every three months for a meeting of the Council of Ministers. Of course, here too, the national interests often take the centre stage. The European Parliament represents the people of the EU and is the sole organ whose employees can directly be elected by the EU citizens.
The most important task of the European Parliament is legislation. Currently, it cannot vote on one third of the laws. To make the democratic process on EU level really count, the European Parliament should also be allowed to initiate law drafts directly. Just being allowed to vote 'yes' or 'no' on the draft proposals of the Commission is actually not enough. However, the European Parliament at least makes responsible use of the currently available possibilities, which is shown by the ratio of the EU Parliament queried, and, therefore, to be altered law drafts of 91% to 10% in the Austrian parliament. At the moment, the EU budget and therefore the big money just partially has to be approved to the Commission by the Parliament. This new competence alone on the basis of the new constitution, sorry, the Treaty of Lisbon, will vastly strengthen the parliament.
The overall control of the EU activities is also an important duty of the European Parliament. It controls the European Commission and its president, and can force them to resign. It can set up investigation committees to keep the activities of the Council of Ministers and the European Commission in check. And finally, there's the sparsely-honored delicate work on various topics. The members of the European Parliament work in different commissions, for example, the Agricultural Committee, the Committee for Transport and Tourism, or the Committee on Legal Affairs, and by publishing their reports, demonstrate the position of the EU Parliament on different topics.
By means of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU Parliament unquestionably gains in importance, whether the sole organ directly elected by the EU citizens will stay as powerful, and hopefully even gain more power in the future, depends on the people, and thereby, on us. Not voting at all means to weaken the vox populi. Abandoning your right to vote will not lead to change and will result in the victory of those who take advantage of it.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

[CREDITS]

End transcript: The European Union explained
The European Union explained
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  1. What significant event led to the formation of the EU?
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Comment

The end of World War II and the onset of the Cold War led to the formation of the EU.

  1. How many political factions are there in the EU Parliament?
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There are eight political factions in the EU Parliament.

  1. How often does Presidency of the EU Council rotate?
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The Presidency of the EU Council rotates every six months.

  1. What mistake does the video make about a bi-annual meeting?
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The Commission does not meet biannually and it does not have summits.

  1. Can the EU Parliament initiate legislation?
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Comment

No, the EU Parliament can't initiate legislation.

  1. To what percentage of draft Austrian legislation did the EU Parliament propose alterations?
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Comment

The EU Parliament proposed alterations to 91 per cent of Austrian draft legislation.

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